World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: November, 2004

Worth Considering

Juliatime "It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s 

   fingers have been all over it."

– Julia Childs on nouvelle cuisine

Burger Birthday

Monstertb There’s nothing more American than a burger.  While many can’t agree on it’s origins most food historians agree that the hamburger made its official debut at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Concessionaire Fletcher Davis of Athens, TX, served the hamburger with a mixture of ground mustard and mayonnaise on slices of thick bread and topped the burger with cucumber pickles and a slice of Bermuda onion.

And we Americans love our burgers.  According to the research organization NPD who tracks trends for marketers and the generally curious, 73% of all burgers consumed in the U.S. are prepared and purchased; French fries are the most popular side item and burgers are more popular than pizza plus seven of every 10 commercially ordered burgers are cheeseburgers most often with American cheese followed by cheddar and Swiss. According to a Hardee’s survey, 48% of Americans say ketchup is their favorite hamburger condiment, followed by mayonnaise and then mustard. What’s more, 83% of those surveyed say lettuce is their favorite topping, followed closely by tomato, and then pickle, onion, bacon, chili and salsa.

Recently Hardee’s in a complete act of decadence, and perhaps to fill a market void announced the Monster Thickburger— two 1/3-pound slabs of Angus beef, four strips of bacon, three slices of cheese and mayonnaise on a buttered sesame seed bun.  This 1,420 calorie meal sells for $5.49, or with fries and a soda for just over $7.  In an interview on CNBC, Hardee’s chief executive Andrew Puzder was unapologetic, saying the company’s latest sandwich is "not a burger for tree-huggers."  Apparently the marketing strategy is to be the real burger choice for real men and real men aren’t environmentalists? 

What you eat is ultimately your responsibility regardless of party affiliation.  I don’t eat a lot of burgers but when I do it must be worth the indulgence.  The 2004 winner of Sutter Home’s Build a Better Burger competition is an example.

History & Legends of Hamburgers

Photo: Image by Hardees of the Monster Thickburger

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The Gastronomical Me

Mfkme "People ask me: why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power, security and love, the way others do?

They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow unfaithful to the honour of my craft.

"The easiest answer is, to say that like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food, security and love, are so mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the other. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.

"I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank red wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens that I am telling too about the people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love."

MFK Fisher, The Gastronomical Me, 1943

IMBB 10 – Cookies

Alfajores_2 For many of us cookies are as much an everyday treat as they are a special occasion tradition.  Holiday cookies are no exception.  Around the world there are cookies that mark the Christmas holiday ranging in flavors from Switzerland’s brunsli, Germany’s lebkuchen, Danish aebleskiver, Italian pizzelles, Czech kolacky, shortbread from Scotland. Mexico’s bicochos and Russian Snowballs and of course the ubiquitous, German in origination but somehow a taste strongly associated with the holiday gingerbread cookies.

For this edition of IMBB #10 Cookies hosted by Domestic Goddess we’re all about cookie swapping–holiday style.

I ended up in South America for this effort, specifically in Uruguay where there is a decidedly Italian influence on  cooking and food preparation. Uruguayans love crusty bread, pasta and pizza. Uruguayans also drink strong espresso coffee from very small cups at coffee bars and enjoy an assortment of pastries and sweets. 

It should come as no surprise to me that I first discovered alfajores in my neighborhood Italian coffee shop. But I was pleasantly enchanted by the delicate balance of shortbread tenderness and sexy sweetness of the filling–dulce de leche. This cookie treat is one of the most common cookies found throughout much of South America. People from Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Peru all claim them as their own.

The recipe calls for a surprising amount of cornstarch. This ingredient lowers the flour’s protein content, so the dough will have a weaker gluten formation, and as a result the cookies will be more tender.

I ran out of dulce de leche and had cookies left over so I created simple variations including filling the middle with Nutella (outstanding), peanut butter, and rose petal jam.

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Friday Fry #12

Tvdinner  Yesterday’s early morning commute was enhanced by NPR’s report, Pure Chocolate for the Holidays.  Susan Stamberg’s  interview with chocolate expert, world class chocolatier and ‘grand dame of chocolate, Fran Bigelow, who is now an author of the new recipe book Pure Chocolate.  Fran is the owner of Seattle’s Fran’s Chocolates the most visible of her products is the gold bar.  The site includes recipes for Chocolate Espresso Sauce and Figs Stuffed with Chocolate Ganache.

Food News You Can Use   The daily work commute runs, each way between 80-120 minutes each way.  If I didn’t have an IPOD and Audible life would be unbearable behind the wheel.  I simply plug a cable into the cigarette lighter and sound is emitted from the car speakers. I carry a number of tunes, audio books and NPR weekly programs.  If you’ve yet to discover this quality of life enhancer check it out.  And if you need a reason, starting now, To The Best of Our Knowledge is delivering a month long food series.  Each show segment is two-hours (one-hour is the food series) and a month-long subscription available for your listening convenience is a mere $9.95.  Sign-up by today and you’ll get the first program, Mimi Sheraton  (the next one comes out tomorrow) as part of the subscription. Additional programs are Slow Food Nation, Meat & Potatoes, Spice, Spice Baby, Java Jive, and Sweet Tooth.

Does it Include Service?     Five thousand dollars for 37-courses, let’s see that’s about $135 a course.  That’s what is being planned by the Societe des Chefs de Saskatchewan for a centennial project and charity fundraiser. The meal will be based on recipes and cookbooks written in France from 1600 to 1850. Among the courses will be caviar, a whole roasted wild boar, truffles, foie de gras, turtle soup, pheasant, and eight dessert courses.

TV DINNER @ 50  What is life but one of extremes?  Swanson’s TV Dinner turns 50 this year.  Clarence Birdseye may have invented the process of freezing food products.  However the rise of TV dinners is due to Swanson’s creativity in packaging the food in a segmented tray that gave the liftoff to the alternative to home cooking. The idea for the aluminum trays came from the airlines. According to the a recent news report Swanson’s "did receive ‘hate mail’ – mostly from disgruntled husbands who were suddenly coming home to find precooked, reheated dinners instead of their favorite home cooking."  Today 66% of Americans eat dinner with the audio box.  The Single Man’s Guide to TV Dinners can serve you us some serious critique on the choices.

Fast Food a la Jacques

Jacques_1 During the work week all I want in the evening is a good, simple dinner in about 20-30 minutes. But I’m fussy.  I don’t want to have to sacrifice taste for speed. 

So you could do things the Rachel Ray way–have someone prep all your food, (where is that manservant of mine?), and open a can or you could learn how to prepare gourmet fast food a la Jacques.

While I was at first suspect.  Quick meals in a minute are the cookbook trend of the moment–right up there with low carb cooking.  But this is Jacques Pépin afterall. Fast Food My Way is his 22nd book. He knows his way around the haute end and the maison end without compromising presentation and flavors. The collection is concise, straight-forward and is culled from over 50 years of cooking not only in restaurants, but at home for his wife Gloria. 

This is the food that Jack eats. His creativity and passion for good, simple food shines in this book.  Techniques are primarily French and Italian with ingredients influenced from far and wide–Latin, Asian and the Far East.

There’s something for everyone in this everyday cooking manual. Silky Tomato Soup with Spinach Coulis, made from a few ripe tomatoes, onion, spinach leaves, spices and a splash of Tabasco, quite tasty. Pear Brown Betty and a Lavash Pizza so simple I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself.

His new PBS show is also called Fast Food My Way and includes a companion cookbook by the same name.  The show has it’s own website that is a charmingly interactive set–clanging pots, steaming oven, and contains recipes and clips from the show.

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Sunday Dinner


   "Why waste an open bottle on a closed mind?"

                                —Sean Thackrey, Winemaker

I celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago with S & K by having lunch at the girl and the fig in Sonoma.  After a great lunch, a gift presentation of their cookbook, we strolled around the plaza poking into the original Williams-Sonoma, a bookstore and a few wine shops. 

And there at the Wine Exchange of Sonoma sitting demurely on the shelf were four bottles of non vintage Sean Thackrey Pleiades XIII {RP: 90 / 2004}($18).  What a find.  This exceptional wine is a blend of Syrah, Barbera, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Mourvedre, and Grenache. Southern Rhone in style with a taste of pepper,spice, and berry fruit contains this medium to full-bodied, complex red.

If you aren’t familiar with this renegade winemaker well that’s okay.  Those of us that are have a hard enough time tracking where to buy it. He’s not widely distributed in the States. He sells more overseas at a higher price point. I’ve been into shops where you need to ask if they have it and they go in to the back room and pull out one or two. 

His wines are named after stars and constellations–Pleiades, Orion, Sirius. The Pleiades, considered the entry wine of the constellation,  were the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione and is loosely translated as flock of doves. This is the more easily found–which keep in mind is a relative statement.

Sean Thackrey is a real artisan winemaker, someone who makes wine by "feel," not by recipe.  Wine critic Robert Parker, gave the 2001 Sirius Mendocino County Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 96 points and the 2002 Orion Rossi Ranch St. Helena California Native Red Wine 94-plus points.

About twice a month S, K and I gather and make Sunday dinner.  Sometimes there’s others and at other times there’s not.  The fare can be elaborate or comforting.  Last night I created a dinner menu around this wine.

Grilled Pork Chops with Apple Cider Sauce

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut-Sage Pesto

Greens with Dressing 

Dessert: Vanilla Tea with Alfajores

Dinner was so good we were chewing on the bones!

SF Chronicle Thackrey Wine Section Profile

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Vote with Your Fork

Nogmo On my list of things to do this weekend was to catch up on the news of Slow Food’s Terra Madre event.  Well, Julia at Mariquita Farms has done such a great job.  As a thank-you I’ll put in a plug for their husband Farmer Andy Griffin’s free bi-weekly newsletter.  They started the newsletter in 1999 because "we saw a demand for information about where and how food is produced, especially sustainably-grown food."   I’ll just add the link for Alice Waters Speech.

Along the same theme on Thursday night a few friends(J&J and H) and I went to a benefit opening of the documentary, The Future of Food (there’s a trailer available). It was a great San Francisco eco-food event to benefit Slow Food.  There was a mix of organic farmers, local chefs, food journalists, activists and foodies.  I was loving the names that were popping up in conversations around me, "I’m working with Traci (Des Jardin)…well, when Thomas (Keller) did "the book" I was asked to prepare the pate de choux dessert…there’s Alice (Waters), oh look there’s Nigel (Eatwell) and Michael Pollan…on and on it went. The film finally started albeit late.  The film is the work of Deborah Koons Garcia (yes, Jerry’s wife) and is all about GMO (genetically modified organism) foods.  It’s educational, compelling and inspiring.  Know what you eat and vote with your fork.  And yes, see the film–in San Francisco it’s at the Roxie. For more background on GMOs read this perspective over at Organic Gardening.   What a great evening that could only happen here in The City by the bay.

Friday Fry #11

Before Dream On     Do you have dreams of opening a restaurant?  New York Observor attended the two-day seminar entitled "How to Open a Restaurant … and Make It Last" in New York and gives some highlights.  Tidbits like the 4x markup on wine by the glass vs. a bottle of wine at 2-2 1/2x the retail cost.  Or the industry statistic that roughly 60,000 restaurants will open in 2004, (165 a day) and about 25 percent will close before their first anniversary. 

Nutty Hot     The 2005 Scovie Award winners have been announced.  And for the third year running McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch Atomic Hot Chili Pistachio Brittle has taken a prize back to the ranch.  Also Southwestern specialty foods catalog winner, Salsa Express whose catalog features picante sauce, corn tostada chips, chile rellenos and of course, a variety of salsas.  There’s also a (sorry) ‘kicked-up’ Blazin’ Bloody Mary recipe that will make your next brunch a bash.

Heat is On      At one time Chef’s Catalog was the leading catalog retailer of top-quality cooking equipment at a good value, both for home chefs and culinary professionals. In 1998 Neiman-Marcus acquired the cataloger.  Today the catalog operation is being sold to a private equity group who has had success with catalogs for Peet’s, Design Within Reach and Bare Escentuals.  The problem I think is more than what Needless Markup suggests–competition in the space (that’s the easy way out).  In my view it’s a lack of brand direction and a direct marketing focus–the list, the list and the list.  That and a bit of catalog page analysis and merchandising might realize a better return.

Water Water     The nearly 100-year-old Hetch Hetchy water delivery system, (ie.O’Shaughnessy Dam) delivers water to the San Francisco Bay Area.  Located near Yosemite there are a lot of enivronmentalists that are aiming for restoration of the valley.   Now, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s resource secretary has commissioned a study for the possible restoration of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park, giving an unexpected official boost to the controversial idea of dismantling the dam that has been integral to the Bay Area’s water supply for more than 80 years. The dam built by the City of San Francisco provides high-quality water and electricity to 2.4 million Bay Area dwellers.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit Yosemite, well it’s epic.  It’s one of my favorite places in the great outdoors.  The next best thing would be for you to take a virtual tour of it’s sister valley.  What the balance should be between the ecosytems of the river and the demands of river users will be a long debate.  Particularly here, one of the greenest communities in the U.S.

Photo credit:

SHF #2- Cider House Rules

Apple The challenge for me with today’s Sugar High Friday was not to bake an apple pie.  I worried that I would distinguish myself from the crowd.  So I took another route with apples and sugar with Apple Cider Pound Cake. A great fall interpretation of a kitchen classic.  Thanks for hosting Domestic Goddess!

Real cider, the dark fragrant kind—not the pale you-can-see-through-to-the-bottom-of-the-glass kind is fall personified.  I found it curious recently when I read a research statistic from, The NPD Group Inc, that stated that only 1.5 of Americans drink apple cider.  Some of my most vivid food memories growing up in New England are centered around crisp afternoons driving to apple orchards and of pressing fresh cider at Drumlin Farms. 

For the most part, apple “juice” is clear, amber-colored, filtered and pasteurized –it is found on the supermarket shelf. It does not need to be refrigerated before opening.  Apple cider is the cloudy, caramel-colored, and unfiltered pressed juice of apples. Also, all apple juice sold today as cider isn’t necessarily "fresh" cider.  Most juice sold in supermarkets is pasteurized, or heat-treated to destroy bacteria. Untreated juice is required to have a label saying so.

Countries producing cider fall into the temperate regions of the world. By the beginning of the ninth century, cider drinking was well established in Europe. Normandy, Brittany, Wiesbaden, the Basque region of Spain, Ireland and Britain introduced the craft of producing cider to America, Canada, Australia to name a few.

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